Cutting Down on Sugar: 21 Ways to Eat Less Sugar

We’ve all agreed that we tend to eat too much sugar, that we crave it, and that we want to learn to eat less of it (or even none at all- don’t miss tomorrow’s post!).

So here’s the really challenging part… how do we do that, practically speaking?

There is a lot of information out there about the dangers of sugar, it’s effect on our bodies, and much more. For these posts, I purposefully chose not to get all educational on you, and instead, focus on real, everyday ideas and solutions!

(But, do look at the bottom of the post for more educational resources and links)

21 Ways to Eat Less Sugar

Image by yogma

Use Better Sweeteners

  • Replace your white or brown sugar with an unrefined, dehydrated sugar, like Sucanat or Rapadura. Yes, it’s still sugar but that one change still makes a difference by somewhat reducing the dramatic blood sugar effect, giving your body at least a few nutrients in the process, and avoiding the high temperature and chemical process used to create regular sugar.
  • Use fruit as a sweetener. Substitute some of the sugar and liquids in a recipe with ripe bananas, apple sauce, pineapple, or other fruit puree. Dried fruits like dates, raisins and figs add wonderful sweetness to foods.
  • Try Stevia. This herb, originally from South America, is extremely sweet by nature but without any calories or sugar-like effects on the body, and you can use as little as a couple drops to sweeten a mug of tea or a few teaspoons in a dessert. It does have a somewhat bitter aftertaste, depending on the type you use. Unrefined foods are always best, and you can buy Stevia as a simple dried powder. Personally, we use this sometimes, but my husband only likes a particular brand of Stevia with absolutely no aftertaste (NuNaturals liquid). It is refined, but it works for us.
  • Use raw honey. Although it is still a sweetener and can be overused like anything, raw honey is full of nutrients, enzymes, and actually has many healing properties. It is lower glycemically than sugar, and many people who react to sugar strongly can eat honey without issue.

These are just a few of the alternative sweeteners out there. For a more thorough overview of natural sweetener options, see this post from The Nourishing Gourmet.

Image by Siona Watson

Replacing Sweets with Healthier Treats

  • Replace “like with like”. This is a common phrase you’ll hear from me, because I believe that we make the transition to healthier choices easier when we find better alternatives that are similar to things we already like. This is an old post with a bunch of sweet tooth ideas that are just a little bit different.
  • Learn to use fruit as a dessert. In North America we have a tendency to make our desserts very sugar, grain and dairy focused (and don’t forget the chocolate). But in many other parts of the world, fruits have a starring role in treats. Think fruit crumbles or cobblers, lightly poached peaches, homemade apple sauce, fresh berries with cream, fruit salad, or fruit smoothies. One of my very favorite desserts is simply peeled and sliced pears, fried lightly in a pan with just a bit of water, a sprinkle of cinnamon and some toasted nuts, especially pine nuts. It’s surprisingly fantastic!
  • Choose savory grains instead of sweetened ones. Sometimes a lovely slice of warm bread and butter can satisfy as much as a sweet treat. Yes, it is made with grains which are still carbohydrates, but the effect on our body is so much better.

Use Less Sugar in General

  • Cut back on the sugar in your recipes. Start to cut back just a bit, perhaps 1/5 or 1/6 the amount, then 1/4, 1/3, even 1/2. See at which point you really start to notice a difference. Over time, you will likely find that you enjoy the less-sweetened version!
  • Be purposeful about cutting meals out of your regular routine that include sugar. If you usually eat a lot of pancakes with syrup, or muffins, or even things like sweetened baked beans, try cutting out one or more of those meals each week. Substitute with something more protein or veggie based instead.
  • Try Stevia as a sugar replacement in your drinks. I think that sweetened beverages are one of the places where we consume the most sugar, in the most un-conscious way. Just replacing the sugar in your drinks with Stevia can cut down your sugar intake more than you might think. It’s great in hot drinks like coffee or tea, as well as for making lemonade or limeade, in iced teas, etc.
  • Try other more complex flavors instead of just going with something sweet. Add fresh or frozen fruit, nuts, coconut, etc. to your oatmeal instead of just honey or brown sugar. Play around with various fresh fruits to add more natural sweetness to smoothies. Use nut butters and a sprinkle of cinnamon instead of jam on toast.
  • Make sourdough bread instead of bread that uses honey or sugar. It tastes amazing, is so cheap to make, and is just as satisfying (check out the Sourdough eCourse that I am currently reviewing- it’s so helpful!)

Image by Matthew F

Dealing with Social Situations and Celebrations

  • Fill up on a really good dinner or wholesome snack, BEFORE you leave the house. If you’re less hungry, you’ll be less tempted.
  • If you are truly attempting to stop eating sugar altogether, mention to your hosts beforehand (if it’s an appropriate situation to do so) that they needn’t prepare any desserts or sweet treats, because you are trying to stay off of them.
  • Offer to bring something that you know you’ll feel good about eating, like a fruit or veggie platter, some hummus and bread, deviled eggs, chips and salsa, etc. Others will likely appreciate a non-sweet item in the mix. I am always pleased at church functions when I see that the savory treats or the bowl of mandarins are the most popular in the midst of the brownies, cookies and bars.
  • Have a special treat waiting for yourself at home when you know that you will be somewhere with no sugar-free alternatives. Instead of feeling tempted all night, you’ll feel better knowing that something yummy awaits you.
  • Allow yourself a small piece of something, or just choose one item that looks the very best. Savor that one thing slowly, and really enjoy it, even if others around you have a plateful.

Will Power and Mind Games :)

  • Have treat days, where you can “cheat” and have a splurge food. It’s easier to go sugar-free for several days knowing that on Friday, you can indulge without guilt. Try having several cheat days each week at first, then down to only one, and ultimately limit yourself to only sweet alternatives except in very special situations.
  • Simply go cold turkey and force yourself to find other options when you’re feeling hungry or snackish. Personally, I like going cold turkey, because there’s absolutely no room for compromise; I simply can’t have it. For others, this is sheer torture and will cause them to cave, so it’s not the right strategy for everyone.
  • In tough situations, remind yourself of the reasons you are doing this. It may help to write them on an index card and put it on your fridge, or perhaps keep it in your wallet.
  • Brush your teeth right after eating a meal, so that you won’t be tempted to eat something sugary and have to go and brush your teeth again.

Further Resources:

At Tiffany’s Table– This is a book I got this spring, trading my Real Food on a Real Budget for a copy of Tiffany Perez’ wonderful real food cookbook. She avoids regular sugar, share tips for going sugar-free (some of which inspired me for this post), and many, many recipes to help you along the way.

Beyond Sugar– From GNOWFGLINS, this was part of a series last year. Overcoming the Withdrawal Symptoms of Going Without Sugar and Snack Ideas are both helpful posts to read.

Use Less Refined Sugar and Get the Refined Sugar Out– Both from @ Kitchen Stewardship’s series Get the Junk Out!

Naturally Knocked Up– Donielle’s recent video, Sugar is the S Word, and she also did a Sugar Detox Challenge a while back. She also has a few of her own thoughts on dealing with sugar cravings.

What helps you to eat less sugar?

About Stephanie Langford

Stephanie Langford has a passion for sharing ideas and information for homemakers who want to make healthy changes in their homes, and carefully steward all that they've been given. She has written three books geared to helping families live more naturally and eat real, whole foods, without being overwhelmed, without going broke and with simple meal planning. She is the creator of Keeper of the Home.

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  1. Sugar is everywhere. It is in obvious foods like cake, candy & cookies. But it is also in so many foods like spaghetti sauce, condiments, etc. The most unfair sugars are the unlisted hidden ones like in fruit juice, health drinks, dried fruit, snacks, bread, etc. I usually serve fruit for dessert. Following that, I have a square of good chocolate, and a non-sugary effervescence water doctored with stevia. That way the meal has a definite end. The main thing is to manage the appetite so not to be hungry for sweets.

  2. Here are two things that help me crave less sugar: drinking hot green tea and hot spearmint/peppermint tea. I drink these when I have a craving to help a little bit.

  3. I LOVE these tips! I love to bake, and I love to eat what I bake, so it’s hard to stay away from things like cookies and cakes. I know making them myself is better than buying pre-made, but these suggestions will help me make them even healthier (and not eat them quite so often). Just one heads-up: allergists are seeing a lot of reactions to Stevia, especially among children and heavy users. They recommend cautiously introducing it to anyone who has allergy issues.

  4. Lori Johnson says:

    Thanks for all the great ideas to eat less sugar. Sometimes we can start to split hairs re: intake of carbs that sugar. I think it’s not so much the carbs as the activity level you have after the intake of carbs and sugar. Eliminating white processed sugars has helped me with inflammation problems. I stopped paying attention to the sugar intake and the inflammation started up all over again. All the help is appreciated and hope yo continue to contribute towards healthy alternatives in my diet!

  5. Vanessa says:

    Hi, I just wanted to comment on your advice to eat carbohydrates like bread instead of sugar. Carbs turn to sugar just as fast – it’s the same thing. Real whole grains might be better, but eating bread is going to have the same spike on blood sugar. Some refined flours have an even faster effect on blood sugar than regular sugar!

  6. Cutting out sugar and sugar substitutes is one of the hardest things I have tried to do. There is some form of sugar or substitute sugar in almost any preprared item. I am working on cutting out as much as possible but may never be entirely “sugar free”.

  7. Melissa Marshall says:

    Hi, I have been getting your emails/newsletters for a while now. I have to admit I don’t always read them. BUT, let me tell you why. I have been trying desperately for a good while now, (months and months) to begin eating better. I need to. I’m extremely overweight (not diabetic yet thank goodness) and since March of 2010, I have been disabled due to spinal stenosis, neuropathy caused by the stenosis, osteoarthritis, etc. But, all this has mad me more determined to eat better, look better, feel better, etc. I have always said I wanted to but didn’t have the time…I did raise a son alone but he is 23 now and I’m home now so I have no excuses. Right? So sometimes, your emails are so full of information that I WANT to read that I get frustrated because there are so many things I want to be doing. Isn’t that stupid? Anyway, this email today was one I’ve spend hours reading on your site and am so glad I did. I have found alot of helpful information. I hope to be able to order the $4.99 book download sometime soon. I am also studying herbs and medicinal properties with herbs and essential oils. I just wanted to say thank you for putting so much FREE information out there for people like me. I really appreciate it and I am going to make spending time on your site a daily must!
    Melissa Marshall
    Oh, and any advice you offer I will gladly accept. I have been drinking mainly water and unsweetened tea for weeks now with only a glass or tea of sweet tea occasionally. You have NO idea how big THAT is. I actually do not eat alot but I always have something to drink with me.

    • Melissa, I do totally understand how huge those kind of changes like switching your beverages can be! That is amazing- way to go! :)
      I can totally sympathize with feeling like some of the info is just overwhelming and too much sometimes. I’m sorry that we can’t always make it more beginner focused, because I’m sure it would help a lot of others who feel like you. I am so happy that you found some info that has been helpful to you, and I really love hearing the determination that you have to make these changes. I absolutely believe you can do it.
      My advice would be to keep choosing small things that you can work on and find victory in those changes. Then, pick the next small thing, and keep moving in the right direction, at a pace that doesn’t stress you out. I think what you’ve done with your beverages is a perfect example. Maybe next, work on eliminating a particular food that you really struggle with. Don’t get rid of all the junk/bad foods at once, just work on that one food first. Then you could try adding one or two really healthy meals to your repertoire, and just enjoy making and eating those. Do you see what I mean? Baby steps. That’s what it’s about. That’s how I did it, and that’s what makes the changes long-lasting. You can do this. Hugs to you! :)

  8. The brush your teeth tip is a good one-it works!

  9. This is a wonderful post, very helpful information! I am wanting to switch to rapadura for a sweetner when I bake and I was just wondering if I can just use it switched out just like normal for white sugar? Also many people have mentioned baking with half f the called for sugar in recipes, wouldn’t this throw the whole recipe out of whack? Do you have to add in more of some other ingredient or does it just still work out? Thank you!

  10. Wow, with your focus on all-natural, no-Soy, etc, I can’t believe that you’d recommend eating bread or other wheat based whole grains. Please check out the book “Wheat Belly” to learn about how genetically modified wheat is… if you think SOY is bad, you’ll be amazed at what wheat has been through. Just some food for thought for you…

  11. Lindsey Brewer says:

    Where do you buy the Stevia? We live in a rural community with only a wal-mart and local grocery store close by. This is all very new to me. I am just beginning to research sugar effects and how to reduce sugar in my families foods. Thanks for the help.

  12. As far a bread with no sugar (or eggs or milk!) you should try Chef Michael Smiths bread recipe, there is a white and a whole wheat grain version. I always add more WW flour . We LOVE them, they are amazing, no knead (you leave it over night and bake it in the morning, so easy!!!) and only has a few ingredients and sugar isn’t one of them! you should try it


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